On World Cancer Day, WHO highlights that cancer is no longer a death sentence

GENEVA - Nearly every family in the world is touched by cancer, which is now responsible for almost one in six deaths globally.

On World Cancer Day (4 February) WHO highlights that cancer no longer needs to be a death sentence, as the capacity exists to reduce its burden and improve the survival and quality of life of people living with the disease.

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All countries can do more to prevent and treat cancer," notes Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention. "We know the main causes. Acting upon them will avoid that many cancer cases occur in the first place. By strengthening the health system response, we can also ensure earlier diagnosis and better access to affordable treatment by qualified personnel, thereby saving millions of lives." 

In May 2017 Member States came together around priority actions to ensure cancer care for all. World Health Assembly resolution WHA A70/A/CONF./9 "Cancer prevention and control in the context of an integrated approach" lays out a clear road map to realize the potential for prevention, early diagnosis, prompt treatment and palliative care for people with cancer.

Since adoption of the resolution, Member States are taking action on its recommendations. Governments are enacting evidence-based risk-reducing strategies such as imposing higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol, promoting healthy diets and physical activity, and advocating for access to HPV vaccination. Approximately 30-50% of cancers can be prevented if these policies are maximally implemented.

Yet, accelerated action is needed if global targets of reducing premature mortality from cancer and ensuring universal health coverage are to be achieved. Treating cancer in its early stages is key. Today, many cases of cancer are diagnosed too late - this means they are harder to treat successfully. A renewed emphasis on strengthening health systems is needed to ensure early diagnosis and accessible, high-quality care for patients. This will result in higher cancer survival rates.

Detecting cancer early also greatly reduces cancer's financial impact: not only is the cost of treatment much less in cancer's early stages, but people can also continue to work and support their families if they can access effective treatment in time.

Earlier this month WHO announced the composition of the new WHO Independent Global High-level Commission on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs), which aims to identify and propose bold and practical ways to curb the world's leading causes of death and illness, including cancer.

Member States will next report on progress in achieving implementation of the road map of national commitments for the prevention and control of cancer at the Third High-level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases to be held in 2018. This is an important year for cancer control as we strive to translate political momentum into lives saved - the time for action is now.


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